BOSTON – Putting up big scoring numbers has never really been Al Horford’s thing, dating back to his college days at Florida when he was an integral part of back-to-back national championship teams.
In Atlanta, “iso” Joe Johnson got buckets all the time while Horford stuck to defense, rebounding and scoring here and there.
It has been more of the same here in Boston, with Isaiah Thomas and most recently Kyrie Irving leading the scoring barrage most nights while Horford fills in where needed.
But with Irving (left knee) out for the postseason and the Celtics being extremely green in terms of their youthful roster, Horford found himself being strongly encouraged by teammates, coaches and friends to be more in “Give me the damn ball” mode during this playoff season.
His former coach at Florida, Billy Donovan, who now coaches the Oklahoma City Thunder, has often said that Horford could be a 20-point, 10-rebound player in the NBA but that doesn’t necessarily give the Celtics the best shot at winning.
Well, it has in Boston’s postseason run.
“This year it’s still the team mentality but with the young group that we have, it’s important for me to be able to lead and be, you know, more aggressive offensively,” Horford told NBC Sports Boston.
Horford is averaging 17.2 points per game, his highest scoring average ever in the postseason. He has had eight games in which he scored at least 20 points in a game. Prior to this year, Horford never had more than three in a postseason run. He’s also averaging a team-best 8.3 rebounds to go with 3.5 assists and 1.4 blocked shots.
His play has been so impressive, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is considering a lineup change that would put Tristan Thompson back in the starting lineup because of his defense against Horford.
“Looking at the statistics over the last three years: Of at least 30 possessions, out of all the guys that guarded Al Horford, Tristan has been No. 1 in the league defending Al Horford,” Lue said. “That's a good thing to know.”
Thompson guarded Horford for 11 possessions in Boston’s 108-83 Game 1 win. Horford did not take a shot during that time but did tally two assists. Most of Horford’s scoring came while being guarded by Kevin Love.
Of Horford’s 20 points scored, 18 came during the 31 possessions he was being guarded by Love according to NBA.com/stats. The other two points came in the lone possession Horford was being defended by Kyle Korver.
“Like I told you, I’m trying to win,” Horford said. “I’m trying to do whatever it takes and do my best. That’s kind of been the situation.”
It’s to the point where there will be possessions in which Horford will call for the ball, something he admits he rarely did prior to this postseason.
“We have to remind our guys too, ‘we have to get Al the ball more,’” Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry told NBC Sports Boston. “And not take it for granted, how unselfish he is.”
Shrewsberry added, “that’s his nature, doing whatever the team needs.”
Which in this postseason run by Boston, is to score – a role that like most involving Horford, is one he has embraced and adapted to rather smoothly.
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